A Better Posture: A Review of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, by Andy Crouch
God’s Holy Experiment: Brother Yun, the Chinese Church, and the Back to Jerusalem Movement

Living With Style (Rule Eight): Don’t Be a Qualifier


"Avoid the use of qualifiers." (Strunk and White, The Elements of Style)

Let me put it like this: I'm rather tired of this little series, and I'm pretty sure you may be also. While that sentence is meant to illustrate the rule, there is truth to it as well. I'm weary of even William Strunk's simple rules, of his "little" book, and yet just when my zeal is flagging, his vivid metaphors as well as wit and humor come to the rescue.

Try this for metaphor: "Rather, very, little, pretty --- these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words." Yeech! It's an effective way to convey his abhorrence for qualifiers. And he even manages to insert a bit of alliteration as well, with his "pond of prose." I'd stop reading his rules if they weren't such a delight to read. That's a mark of good writing: you so enjoy the prose that it matters not what the content may be.

Or try this for humor: "The constant use of the adjective little (except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little better, we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then." Strunk is having fun with us.

But I digress. The point of this helpful rule is that we should simply say what we mean and mean what we say. As the Bible says, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." So qualifying our words is serious business!

Qualifiers are people who either lack confidence in what they are saying, lack the courage to stand on a "yes" or "no," or are always leaving themselves a path of retreat from any commitment --- whether from a position on an issue or a commitment to a dinner date. Some other option may present itself. Something better may come along. They may change positions because they sense the wind of opinion is against them. They don't want to be tied down. They don't want to disappoint. They are rather tiresome, aren't they, particularly when they are us.

Jesus was not a qualifier. "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matt. 4:8). "I am willing. Be clean," he said to the leper (Mk. 1:41). "Go in peace." "Come, follow me." "Take courage, don't be afraid." "Go, sell everything you have." "Are you so dull?" (Yes, we can be.) We can be confident that Jesus said exactly what he meant, that nothing he said was unqualified because he had no doubt of either its truth or appropriateness or any concern as to how it would be perceived. Politicians take heed!

So the next time you hear me say a qualifying word, have a little word with me, OK? A simple "Yes" or 'No' should do.